RIDGEWAY—Robert Alvin “BJ” “RAJ” Johnson was born Dec. 28, 1944, and passed away March 7, 2019. Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, BJ never took life easy. He knew education and hard work are the keys to success and worked hard in school to get ahead. A 1963 graduate of East High School, BJ started at the UW-Madison with a four-year basketball scholarship.
The sixties were an interesting time to come into adulthood and BJ enjoyed those times... maybe too much. First, it was schafkopf and beer, later it was peace and love. The former cost him his scholarship, the latter defined who he was.
He joined the U.S. Marine Corps enabling him to finish his B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering. His eyes were opened while on the UW-Madison campus as riots against the Vietnam War broke out. He took a stand and filed as a conscientious objector. His one regret in life was accepting a general discharge, but he was young and wanted to get on with his life. And get on with it he did!
Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll defined the 60s and 70s and BJ was there living and loving every moment. He was arrested for desecration of the flag, a patch on his jeans, and throwing missiles, a frisbee, at the State Capitol. He streaked down Johnson Street on a sunny, fall day. He stopped traffic to let ducklings and their mamma cross. He rescued kittens. He even rescued a horse.
He traveled to Columbia where he got an up close and personal tour of their jail and learned about survival as a “gringo.” Luck was with him, not having any contraband on him helped, and he was allowed to return to the States. It was after that trip that his life changed forever. Sporting a Colombian jail haircut and aviator sunglasses, he hung around the Library Mall, when along came Mary. Destiny and fate entwined. They moved in together and after 17 years, they married.
Crazy in life and crazy in love, BJ and Mary escaped to the country and carved out a life together. Living on a ridge top outside of Ridgeway, he learned about heating with wood and became proficient with a chainsaw. Living in a log cabin without plumbing, he learned about conservation of water. Country life brought him peace of mind and a love of the planet.
His love of the outdoors led him to work as a civil engineer, eventually starting his own business, BJ’s Soil Evaluation. Surveying his way around southwestern Wisconsin, he felt he was privileged. No matter the weather, he loved what he did. The only complaint was on the days the winds shifted while the farmers were spraying their fields.
BJ’s love of basketball didn’t end in college. Pick-up games at the UW Natatorium, Shell, and Red Gym were a daily part of his life until he blew out a knee. He transitioned to running and weights and was a regular on the paths around campus and roads around Mount Horeb.
BJ was diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease 25 years ago. More than once it was wondered how much the pesticides and herbicides from the farmers’ fields factored in with his disease. Parkinson’s isn’t a terminal disease, but it steals your life away. The loss of manual dexterity, tremors, and loss of balance were just the beginning. Runs became walks, and eventually, a slow shuffle. A fall and a broken femur brought on his demise. A terminal break given his health. Despite his request to end it all while he was still in the hospital, the laws of the State do not allow us to end a life prematurely. We are allowed to be kinder to our pets than the people we love when it comes to end of life.
BJ was preceded in death by his parents, Alvin and Adeline; a sister, Louise Shafer Upson; and her daughter, Sheri Clement. He is survived by his sisters, Doris Montague and Lynn (Dick) Mueser; his wife, Mary McMurray; and his friends, Scott and Angel.
The staff at Agrace HospiceCare were awesome. Their care was top notch. Morphine was used to control pain. Not a bad way to go for an old hippie.
Per BJ’s directives, there will be no funeral; he wants a party. When the snow is gone and the ground is dry, there will be a bonfire so friends and family can share their stories, celebrating his life at a later date. Online condolences may be made at www.gundersonfh.com.